Fabricating Foucault: Rationalising the Management of Individuals

Fabricating Foucault: Rationalising the Management of Individuals

Fabricating Foucault: Rationalising the Management of Individuals

Fabricating Foucault: Rationalising the Management of Individuals

Synopsis

This book explores the implications of the work of Michel Foucault for the Enlightenment project. Specifically, it asks whether and how the modern drive to explain the world so as to guide political action and promote progressive change, can be defended in the light of Foucault's critique of Western philosophy, his reconceptualisation of power relations and his account of the subject. Firstly, it is shown how Foucault's genealogy, a hybrid and polemical approach, aims to call into question the theories and practices which underpin the present. Genealogy problematizes what we have come to take for granted, and in so doing it requires that we rethink not only the nature and history of Western philosophical thought but also the role of intellectuals. To attempt to write a history of truth is to ask what one can know of a concept which structures the very limits of our knowledge. It is to become aware of the forces and constraints involved in our production of truth, and thus to bring to light thecomplex relationship between knowledge and power. Secondly, Foucault argued that, since ancient times, forms of knowledge and relations of power, characterised by individualising and totalising tendencies, have steadily but discontinuously integrated into disciplinary technologies which have been instrumental in constituting the sovereign human individuals which philosophy assumes as given. Following Foucault's lead in focusing not on what power is, but on how it operates historically and in concrete ways, it is shown how Foucault reconceptualised relations of power as strategies of governance which depend on the existence of free subjects capable of resistance. Thirdly, the spotlight falls on therole of relations of power and knowledge, especially the human sciences, in manufacturing subjectivity (from souls and bodies to individual actors), which is in turn related to Foucault's call to irreverently question the limits of philosophy and to engage in aesthetic s

Excerpt

What might be called the Enlightenment project of modern social theory, the urge to explain the world so as to facilitate control, guide action and promote progressive change, has over the last few decades of the twentieth century been fundamentally called into question by what may be broadly labelled postmodernism. The grand ‘totalising’ explanatory narratives of the human sciences have been accused of ‘violently appropriating’ reality; the comfortable divisions of politics and power between those who have and those who don't, and between those with good or God on their side and their reactionary Others, have been declared to be simplistic and naive; and the yearning for the social construction of a better society has faltered in the face of a redeemed and rehabilitated nihilism which has declared the death of the subject. Critics of postmodernism accuse it of superficiality, extreme abstraction, relativism, political conservatism, passivity and fatalism, and decry its implications for the central Enlightenment practices of scientific analysis, transformative political action and intentional human agency. The current functioning of modern societies is integrally bound up with the Enlightenment project; if the latter falters or changes, so must the world as we know it. Social theory thus cannot declare itself immune from the challenge of postmodernism, and is driven to defend itself or perish in the attempt.

One of the most important theorists to be labelled a postmodernist was Michel Foucault (1926–1984). It is not important here whether or not Foucault was a postmodernist—he claimed to be “not up to date” with the term (Raulet 1983: 204)—or even whether it is possible to talk in this way of some kind of unified postmodern theory. What is important are the implications of Foucault's oeuvre for our Enlightenment derived understandings of theory, politics and human subjects, given the extent to which this oeuvre is said to call into question some, if not all, of our most cherished assumptions. Foucault's argument that the Western ‘will to truth’ is an effect of successive but discontinuous epistemes premised upon complex relations of power, stands alongside other arguments that truth is an illusion fostered by Western logocentrism or the metaphysics of presence (Derrida), or . . .

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